REVIEW: The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (Welcome to Night Vale, Episodes #2) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

51pbspam99lThe Great Glowing Coils of the Universe is the second volume featuring scripts from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe contains the scripts from the podcast’s second season, as well as the live show The Debate, along with an introduction by Maureen Johnson, illustrations by Jessica Hayworth, and introductions to each episode by various members of the cast and crew. In The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, Night Vale faces a takeover by a totalitarian corporation that threatens to forever change the town and everyone in it. Like the previous review, this review will be in two parts; the first part will discuss the book itself while the second part discusses the content of the season.

Like the last book, The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe begins with an introduction by a friend of the podcast. This time, it’s author Maureen Johnson (who also voices Intern Maureen in the show). Her introduction is perfect. It has its tongue planted so firmly in cheek that it immediately sets the mood for the rest of the book. It straddles that line between weird and funny perfectly and I can’t think of anyone better suited to have written an introduction for this book. The introductions to each episode remain insightful without being too revealing. This volume features more introductions from cast members than the last volume (mostly because the second season of the show featured a lot more guest voices than the first season did). This benefits the book as it gives a greater variety of insight into the making of this podcast. The introductions are funny and oftentimes very personal to whoever the writer is. Many of them reveal some juicy behind the scenes secrets about the ease (or difficulty) in writing an episode, or the inspiration or purpose behind said episode. The introductions alone make this a must-read for Night Vale fans. Then you’ve got the illustrations by Jessica Hayworth. Like the last volume, her illustrations perfectly walk that line between expanding the visual element of the Night Vale universe and revealing too much. She continues to leave much to the audience’s imagination, but her illustrations still add quite a lot to the experience.

My one problem with the book is the placement of the script for the live show The Debate. Most Night Vale live shows don’t really have a set place in canon. There are very few references to ongoing story arcs so they can be placed pretty much anywhere in the story of that season. The Debate is different. The Debate deals with a debate between the three candidates for mayor – The Faceless Old Woman, Hiram McDaniels, and Marcus Vansten – and because of this, it needs to take place before a certain episode. The election is held in episode 49, so the live show must take place before then. However, the book chooses to place the live show at the end of the book – like the last volume – and while normally that would be fine, in this case, it creates a bit of a problem when reading it. If you’re reading these scripts for the first time without having heard the podcast, it might be nice to be able to read them in an order that makes sense. The Debate ought to have been placed somewhere before episode 46 in the book. It’s a minor nitpick, really. It’s good that they included the script to that live show, I just would’ve placed it in a different spot.

On to the content of the season itself! This season introduces the first real ongoing season plotline for the podcast: StrexCorp and their imminent threat and invasion of Night Vale. The addition of this season long story arc is one of the smartest things that Fink and Cranor have done for the series. By adding this thread that weaves through the episodes and ties them closer together, making for a better listening experience overall. The one-off episodes are fun, and there are still plenty of them in this season, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of episodes that further an ongoing plotline rather than ones that stand alone.

Lots of elements for this season were set in the previous season, and it’s wonderful seeing how they come together and culminate in this story that’s told. The season also introduces many new plot threads that later become relevant in future seasons. Fink and Cranor are experts at mentioning things that seem like one-off jokes, but then end up being very important in future episodes and seasons. It’s a really good skill of theirs, and it works really well for this show.

The characters continue to develop in interesting ways. Cecil and Carlos’ relationship feels so real and normal, even though all this ridiculous stuff is happening around them. I love the development of Tamika Flynn and Intern Dana; it’s nice that this show has such diverse representation. Tamika and Dana end up being so important to the climax of this season, and it’s wonderful to see (or hear/read, I guess) two women of color having such an impact on a story. It shouldn’t be such a rare thing, but it is. And I liked it.

I like this season a lot. It remains one of my favorite story arcs throughout the entirety of the Night Vale series. Maybe even my favorite. It’s a good story, and it’s where Night Vale really started to hit its stride, I think. The amount of social satire that is included in this season is wonderful and appreciated and still relevant three years after the season was originally written.

The Glowing Coils of the Universe is an excellent companion to the second season of Welcome to Night Vale. I recommend it for anyone who is already a fan of the series or anyone who wants to try and see what all the buzz for the series is about.

I give it 5 out of 5 wands!

The Glowing Coils of the Universe is published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available now in paperback and e-book formats.

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